Game Over Online ~ Assassin`s Creed Brotherhood

GameOver Game Reviews - Assassin`s Creed Brotherhood (c) Ubisoft, Reviewed by - Brian Mardiney

Game & Publisher Assassin`s Creed Brotherhood (c) Ubisoft
System Requirements Windows XP/Vista/7, 1.8GHz Processor, 1.5GB RAM, 8GB HDD, 256 MB DirectX 9.0–compliant card with Shader Model 3.0 or higher
Overall Rating 85%
Date Published Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 at 06:30 PM

Divider Left By: Brian Mardiney Divider Right

I'm in a bit of a predicament here. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is a very good game, just like all the previous installments. It progresses the story, keeps the action fun and fluid, and introduces some nifty little additions to the gameplay. My predicament is that if you are using this review to decide on whether or not to buy the game, then there's not much more I can say about it. It's a worthy purchase. Okay, now that your Steam client is downloading the files, the only thing left for me to do is nitpick.

In the off chance that you are picking this game up without having played the first two installments, Assassin's Creed tells the story of Desmond, a man reliving the lives of his assassin ancestors as they secretly wage war against the Illuminati-type bad guys, the Templars, throughout history. In Brotherhood, as in Assassin's Creed 2, you will spend most of your time controlling Ezio Auditore during the Renaissance in Rome, Italy. Through the use of various weapons of the time, some stealth mechanics and the still-revolutionary free-run system, you take the fight to those that seek control over humanity, Leviathan-style. All of those elements are retained from the previous games.

The new features, while mostly cosmetic or small, serve to add enough difference to the gameplay that it never feels totally repetitive. Ezio is finally given a small crossbow (I've been waiting for that addition since it was featured in the intro movie of the first game) which serves the role of a medieval-era silenced pistol, making stealth missions significantly more tolerable. Also, instead of upgrading a small villa, you are now placed in charge of revitalizing all of Rome (I guess one guy buying up all the property in a city is seen as an economic boom?). Along with purchasable two-handed weapons and parachutes, there are enough new toys that you can always find flashy and interesting ways of killing the ubiquitous guards (my new favorite is hurling a giant axe into the head of a charging cavalryman). You are now also able to fire off your pistol or flick out throwing knives without having to change weapons, which keeps combat extremely fluid and makes you feel badass when you finally pull off a flawless performance using all of your tools on the fly. Adding to the baddassery is the addition of an Arkham Asylum-esque combo fighting system, whereby one successful kill leads straight into the next for as long as you can remain undamaged. Suddenly crowds of enemies are less of a hassle and more of a way to show off.

The single biggest addition (and largest time-sink for me) is the new Assassin Recruitment feature. At a certain point in the story, Ezio decides that he's "too old for this shit" (not an actual quote) and so he goes about recruiting other freedom fighters to help him murder people. Once you have your team recruited, you are tasked with leveling them up by either directing their blades at hapless targets in your way or by sending them out on text-based missions spread throughout Europe. While this new aspect is fun for the RPG lover in all of us (Ooooo, I get to color their clothes?! Tee hee!), it does serve to turn the game into more of a spectator sport, as you just end up watching in patronly contentment as your "children" ruthlessly gut people for your amusement. By the end, I hardly used my team because I found that I actually preferred playing the game myself, thank you. This brings me to my first real nitpick of the game: a lot of it is just fluff.

Developer Ubisoft Montreal is obviously keenly aware that people enjoy the sandbox nature of their environments and that "screwing around time" is as important as "story time", if not more so. The reason this is obvious is because Ezio now has literally over a couple dozen ways of killing people, and not in the rock-paper-scissors way that most games favor. Almost all enemies can easily be killed with any weapon. Is this a bad thing? On the face of it, no of course not. Just because your standard sword does the job perfectly well every time doesn't mean that your knife/throwing knife combo isn't equally fun. The problem is that Ubisoft didn't really increase the challenge of the enemy, which would make using those new tools vital. Instead it's like they just threw us a crossbow and said with a shrug, "Here, try this. It's also kind of fun." And it is, but how would you feel as a toddler if the round peg fit just as easily into the hole as the square peg? Sure, they both get the job done, but there isn't that same sense of accomplishment if any old peg works.

Another area where Ubisoft has yet to find an elegant design solution is in choice. The story is set in stone, with no branching outcomes and that's fine; not all game stories can be open-ended and linearity makes for a tighter narrative. But the one place where choice actually could matter is in how you approach your missions. Do you want to play the brash swashbuckler who overcomes defenses every time with daring acrobatics and swordplay? Or do you want to play the sneaky ninja, killing without being seen and escaping in puffs of smoke? Well too bad for you, you have to be one or the other, as proscribed by the game developers on a mission-by-mission basis. Sometimes you have to remain out of sight or else the mission fails and other times you are forced out into the open for a massive melee and you rarely have control over that decision.

This is simply lazy design work; it's the developers throwing up their hands and saying "We can only write/program a mission to be stealth based or combat based, but not both!". Considering games like Deus Ex had perfected an open-ended approach formula a decade ago, there's no excuse for such restrictive gameplay in the year 2011. One guard notices me and my mission is over on the spot? Not only is that immersion breaking (finding a way out of that pickle would have been fun!), but it's also frustrating when you have to replay the same fifteen minute section over and over because you didn't follow the arbitrary game rules. They even added extra restrictions for each mission (such as "only kill your target" or "beat the mission in under eight minutes"), thus further choking off spontaneous creativity. Thankfully, these extra restrictions are completely optional, only intended for fanatical completionists, but it still illustrates Ubisoft's top-down, dictator approach to game design.

Another disappointment comes from the story itself. Where Assassin's Creed 2 seemed to rocket the overarching narrative forward, Brotherhood essentially treads water. You spend the vast majority of the game chasing after "the one that got away" from the last game, along with his new generalissimo cohort. No personal tale of revenge, no epic clashing of fates, just Machiavelli nagging in your ear, "You forgot to kill the Pope, idiot!"; Brotherhood is just one long janitorial mop-up shift. Desmond's story is equally plodding with nothing of consequence happening until the very end, and even then, there is so little relatable aspects to grasp onto (I was in some sort of alien vault at the end? I think?), the final events are less of a "Wow!" and more of an "Oooooookay?". Like the shark in Jaws, the less we see of the sci/fi techno-babble crap in future AC games, the better. A little bit of it makes the atmosphere eerie and interesting, a lot of it makes the atmosphere silly and contrived.

Finally we move on to the much-advertised multiplayer portion of Brotherhood. While I jumped into it knowing very little beforehand, the idea of multiplayer Assassin's Creed seemed intriguing on its face. I'm glad I didn't have any expectations because if I had, they most assuredly would have been dashed. Multiplayer consists of, what amounts to, a various assortment of deathmatch and team deathmatch hunting sessions, the main (and seemingly only) objective being to level up your profile and gain access to many of the same toys that Ezio has in the singleplayer game. The gameplay itself is fairly novel; you take turns playing the role of hunter and hunted, relying on a vague radar that keeps you headed in the right direction and basically try to act as much like the mindless NPCs that surround you as possible while simultaneously looking out for non-NPC behavior (thus revealing your target). Put another way, it's hide and seek with knives. For me, however, there's one fatal flaw in this formula: it's deathmatch and team deathmatch, which are by far the most boring and repetitive of multiplayer modes. A round will consist of you killing, dying, respawning, killing, dying, respawning, etc, etc, ad infinitum. There is no greater context or deeper level. By about the fifth round, I felt like I had reaped all the enjoyment I could out of this type of gameplay. By the 50th round, I confirmed that I was right the day before. There is only one draw to keep playing, and that is to level up and that's nowhere near good enough to keep me playing.

I also have to make special mention of the multiplayer matchmaking system. Here the top-down, autocratic mentality of the Ubisoft developers smacks you in the face because you are given almost no control over what games you can join. You simply hit "Play XYZ type match" and the game insists on doing all the matchmaking for you. This means it's hard to make friends, hard to be a "regular" on any one server, and hard to view it as anything but a cold, clinical procedure. Not only that, but sometimes you will be sitting in the "searching for games/players" screen for upwards of ten minutes, more if you are searching for a specific game mode. I get the impression that to Ubisoft, this isn't about "ease of matchmaking"; this approach is so ingrained in how they make games that it almost seems like a philosophical battle they are fighting with the player. Which is laughably ironic since their overarching narrative is about evil, controlling Templars vs. individualistic, liberty-loving Assassins. This is, without a doubt, the most "Templar" multiplayer interface I've ever seen in a PC game.

And so we come back to the original question, "Should I buy this game?" The answer is fairly mundane for Assassin's Creed veterans: If you liked the previous games, want to know how the story inches forward, and don't mind spending another 20 some hours doing all the same stuff you've done before, go buy it. I easily fit into that category so while it was easy to see the flaws, I still had a great time playing. If you're still a little burned out on Assassin-y gameplay, this isn't going to reinvigorate your desire to play and you should probably wait for a Steam sale six months from now. Brotherhood is truly "same as it ever was", but none the worse for it.


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